REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes ~Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page~
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes
~Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page~
upstaged rating: 

2017 marks the 30th year anniversary for New Adventures and to celebrate this milestone Sir Matthew Bourne brings the first full-length ballet adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Red Shoes to the stage. The Red Shoes is one of the lesser known of Andersen’s stories but it strikes a resounding chord with the dancing world; it has been a 20-year ambition of Bourne’s to revive the Academy Award-winning 1948 film storyline for his audience.

The ballet tells the much-loved story of Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw), a young dancer who is torn between fulfilling her dream and falling in love. Victoria dreams of being the greatest dancer in the world but when she falls for the struggling composer Julian Craster (Chris Trenfield), she finds herself caught in the midst of a battlefield between her love and her one true love, which is to dance.

When Victoria puts on the vivid red ballet shoes, given to her by the commanding ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer), she is unable to stop dancing until the shoes are removed from her feet. Strikingly set against Lez Brotherston’s stylish monochrome backdrop, Ashley Shaw moves passionately with technical brilliance and much like the red ballet shoes on her feet, she is intoxicating to watch – graceful and passionate en pointe.

Chris Trenfield demonstrates strength and agility as a dancer and storyteller through his sensitive and charming portrayal of love interest, Julian Craster. Sam Archer’s imperious Boris Lermontov offers a striking contrast – ambitious, pushy and marked. Commanding the stage, the red shoes become a tool of seduction; their trailing red ribbons indicative that all may not end well.

Throughout the performance my eye was drawn to Liam Mower as gregarious Ivan Boleslawsky – agile, fun and bold  – Mower is just mesmerising to watch.

Sir Matthew Bourne’s choreography is elegant and super stylish, and the company deliver with precision and wit. Bourne is a unique storyteller who is never afraid to challenge himself – it is this which makes every production he takes on a triumph.

Terry Davies’ new musical score, using the music of golden-age Hollywood composer, Bernard Herrmann, is an absolute delight. Managing to juxtapose the romantic, heart-achingly beautiful with the more playful, comical numbers – the New Adventures Orchestra deliver with gusto. Lez Brotherston’s ornate revolving theatre set design and dazzling costumes inspired by 1940’s glamour contrast strikingly against Duncan McLean’s Burton-esque video projection. 

The Red Shoes is a breathtaking balletic display – a beautifully tragic tale poignantly told.

But don’t just take my word for it – go and see for yourselves.

-Kristy Stott

The Red Shoes runs at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 3rd December 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Wind in the Willows (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Neil McDermott and the cast of Wind in the Willows © Marc Brennan
Neil McDermott and the cast of Wind in the Willows
© Marc Brennan
 Reviewer: megan hyland
upstaged rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Wind in the Willows is a heart-warming and colourful musical based on the novel by Kenneth Grahame, produced by Jamie Hendry. It stars comedian and actor Rufus Hound as the sparky and bold speed enthusiast Mr Toad, alongside other familiar faces such as David Birrell (Midsomer Murders and Buried) as Mr Badger and Fra Fee (Les Miserables) as Mole. The musical tells the renowned story of friendship and adventure through beautifully orchestrated live music and the incredible dynamics of the cast. When Mr Toad is arrested and thrown in prison for the theft of a motor car, his lavish mansion is seized by the Wild Wooders, a fiendish band of woodland animals.

As Mr Toad, Hound steals the show with his quick humour and physicality. His boundless energy brings new life to the well-loved character, making him charming and likable despite his endless scheming. Although Hound may seem an usual choice for the role, none could have played it better. That being said, the rest of the cast fell far from short. Their command of the stage was masterful, and the singing in particular was captivating. Every harmony was perfectly blended and the actors seemed constantly in-tune with one another, working together to create a mesmerising production.

Other stand out performances were that of Neil McDermott and Sophia Nomvete. McDermott played the Chief Weasel, a cunning and cruel Wild Wooder. He was as menacing as he was exciting, and he brought up the energy of the other woodland creatures. As the strong and gutsy Mrs Otter, Nomvete delivered an amusing and engaging performance, playing the worried but protective mother who is no doubt familiar and lovable to us all.

However, it is the music, written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe which makes this performance truly special. The songs are both uplifting and catchy, with a perfect combination of emotion and humour. They are heartfelt and sincere, without bringing down the general light mood of the production. Combined with the stunning sets and costumes designed by Peter McKintosh and Howard Harrison’s striking light design, it creates an enchanting atmosphere that is matchless.

With the Wind in the Willows, Julian Fellowes has expertly crafted a magical tale of the power of friendship. It is perfect for families and children, although I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a few hours of lighthearted fun and music. Without a doubt, this is the musical production of the year.

– Megan Hyland

Wind in the Willows is at The Lowry, Salford until Sunday 6th November 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

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Showing as part of Family Arts Festival. Please click here for more information.

 

 

REVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet: Shakespeare Dream Bill (The Lowry, Salford)

Wink Birmingham Royal Ballet © Andrew Ross
Wink
Birmingham Royal Ballet
© Andrew Ross
upstaged rating:      

2016 marks four hundred years since the death of William Shakespeare and Birmingham Royal Ballet continue their celebration of the world’s most prolific dramatist with Shakespeare Dream Bill. The production presents three contrasting works, from contemporary to classical, in a Shakespeare-themed feast of balletic brilliance.

American choreographer Jessica Lang’s Wink serves an elegant entree inspired by the language of The Bard’s sonnets. Set to Jakob Ciupinski’s new score, both the music and the movement echo the structure of the sonnets. Surreal and captivating, the piece takes its title from the first line of sonnet 43, ‘When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see.’ The graceful performance is framed by Mimi Lien’s set of rotating boards which switch from black to white representing the blink of an eye. Stylish and contemporary, Peter Teigan’s lighting design and Alfie Jones’ voiceover add further clarity to this faultless display.

José Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane subtitled ‘Variations on the theme of Othello’, distils the tangled tragedy of Othello into a tightly knit and thrilling one-act piece. The four dancers: Tyrone Singleton (Othello), Iain Mackay (Iago) , Delia Mathews (Desdemona) and Samara Downs (Emilia) sweep and glide in Pauline Lawrence’s medieval inspired gowns. Moving in a circular motion about a dark stage, they are enmeshed. Othello’s white handkerchief is passed between them to Henry Purcell’s baroque score.

The Dream concludes the triple bill with a good dose of magic and wit as the company revive Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1964 interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With Peter Farmer’s leafy woodland setting and John B Read’s dramatic lighting design, the company fill the stage with elegance and jest.  

I was very surprised to see a few empty seats on the night I attended as the Birmingham Royal Ballet usually, and rightfully, attract a full house. Perhaps the idea of Shakespeare fused with ballet felt quite daunting for some, which is quite a shame as The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare Dream Bill is pure perfection- a stunning display of agility, beauty and technical wisdom. This production is a superb evening out for all ages and whether you are a seasoned theatre-goer or on your first trip to the ballet, the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare Dream Bill is a dazzling visual feast.

-Kristy Stott

The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare’s Dream Bill is on at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 17th September 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

 

 

REVIEW: The Shawshank Redemption (The Lowry, Salford)

The Shawshank Redemption © Mark Yeoman
The Shawshank Redemption
© Mark Yeoman
reviewer: megan hyland
upstaged rating: 

Adapted by Owen O’Neill and Dave Jones from Stephen King’s critically acclaimed novel and the iconic 1994 film, the Shawshank Redemption tells the familiar story of Shawshank Maximum Security Penitentiary. Whether you know the story or not, this production is accessible for all audience members, with its hard-hitting and emotional performances drawing you in from the beginning.

thumbnail_Paul NichollsThe play follows Andy Dufresne, (played by Paul Nicholls) an intelligent and charismatic banker imprisoned for the double murder of his wife and her lover. The story is beautifully narrated throughout by his fellow prisoner Red – played by Ben Onwukwe who brings brilliant animation and magnetism to the well-loved character. Throughout the twenty years in which the play is set, we see Andy interact and develop relationships with his fellow prisoners – played by an outstanding supporting cast – all the while forming a rather resourceful plan.

The all-male cast offer a range of powerful and gripping performances, from the quiet and bumbling but lovable librarian ‘Brooksie’, played by Andrew Boyer to the terrifying and sinister prison tormenters Rooster and Bogs, played by Jeff Alexander and Sean Croke, whose performances were exceptional and uncomfortably convincing. The entire cast had incredible physicality and great chemistry, particularly between Nicholls and Onwukwe, who bring both humour and charm to their characters. Nicholls gave a charming and likable performance as Andy, effortlessly transitioning from Andy’s distanced and quiet personality to bold, raw performances with Jack Ellis’ performance as Waden Stammas being the perfect menacing contrast. Each scene was thick with tension, but the hard topics especially were handled effortlessly and tension was quickly diffused with wonderfully dry humour.

Gary McCann’s set and costume design although simplistic added greater authenticity to the story, and allowed it not to distract or take away from the incredible acting performances. Although the costumes and set design were reminiscent of the 1994 film of the same name, they were magnificent in their own right. Paired with Dan Samson’s eloquent sound design, they create a genuine and intimidating prison atmosphere.

Transferring this story to the stage can’t have been an easy task, but director David Esbjornson has done a faultless and beautiful job. The cast bring a new life to the familiar roles, without leaving behind the story we’re familiar with. And although not a light-hearted watch, the play tells a riveting and heartfelt story of friendship, strength and hope that resonates with the audience.

-Megan Hyland

The Shawshank Redemption runs at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 10th September 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Gangsta Granny (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Birmingham Stage Company's Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. ©Mark Douet
Birmingham Stage Company’s Gangsta Granny by David Walliams.
©Mark Douet
upstaged rating: 

The Lowry fizzes with excitement with the arrival of the Birmingham Stage Company’s adaptation of David Walliams’ much-loved Gangsta Granny.

Since 2008 David Walliams has taken the children’s literary world by storm – writing nine children’s books and selling more than 12.5 million copies worldwide. Children (and grown-ups) love his books and it was clear to see that this stage show was also well received. Gangsta Granny has been a staple read in our house- the immersive sheer brilliance of Walliams’ wit has ignited our imaginations and prompted conversation. While the stage show doesn’t offer the same enveloping delight as diving into the original, the charm and excitement of the live stage match the vigour and flamboyance of Walliams’ writing.

Adapted by Neal Foster, Gangsta Granny tells the story of Ben (Ashley Cousins) and the relationship that he has with his little scrabble playing, cardigan wearing, cabbage chomping Granny (Gilly Tompkins). Ben loathes having to stay at his boring Granny’s house every Friday when his Mum (Louise Bailey) and Dad (Benedict Martin) go to watch their Strictly Stars Dancing show.

Vibrant and colourful, each character looks as though they have sprung from the pages of Tony Ross’ wonderful illustrations. Travelling around on her motorised scooter we soon learn that Granny is not as boring as we have been led to believe. Action packed and dream-like with a wicked brilliance, Gangsta Granny is poignant with some top-trumping wit and offers a thoughtful twist as Ben comes to realise that beyond the drab exterior, his gran is wild and adventurous.  

‘It’s important to follow your dreams Ben, it’s all you’ve got to guide you.’

Jacqueline Trousdale’s set is colourful and snappy, the simple design makes scene changes swift and fluid. Jak Poore’s ballroom themed musical composition is lively and comical, adding further depth to the production.

© Mark Douet
© Mark Douet

 

Gangsta Granny is fun and fast paced and the perfect outing for children, parents and grannies. It continues to tour right through summer  2017 – running at 2 hours and 10 minutes, it is the ideal treat for those children who read, share and love Walliams’ writing.

-Kristy Stott

Gangsta Granny gets a WEST END transfer! Catch David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny at The Garrick Theatre, London from 26th July 2017 to 3rd September 2017- tickets are available here.

Gangsta Granny continues to tour the UK right through to September 2017. Click here to find your nearest venue and book tickets.

REVIEW: Cyril the Squirrel (The Lowry, Salford)

Cyril the Squirrel is so sq-exciting
Cyril the Squirrel
thingstars: 

Theatre maker Cathy Shiel’s background in early years teaching really shines through in this delightful and touching new piece of children’s theatre, Cyril the Squirrel. This charming tale is pitched perfectly for children aged 3 and up and is packed to the brim with bright visual storytelling and amusing interaction. With clowning, puppetry and performance, Cyril the Squirrel has plenty to keep those inquisitive minds engaged for the full 45 minute running time.

The tale unfolds within Woody Woodland when Cyril (Jennifer Birch), a grey squirrel, meets Rosie Red (Cathy Shiel), a red squirrel.The heartwarming tale explores themes around friendship and diversity as the two become best friends despite sneaky Willy the Weasel and his best efforts to divide them.

With their little eyes wide, many children in the audience were gripped from the very start of the show. This production has interaction at its core, inviting children to engage with the performers throughout – it’s a sure way to get theatres toughest critics on your side from the outset. The narrative is simple and pitched at a perfect level for younger children; the clever use of instruments, highly visual tricks and puppetry succeed in feeding their excitable minds and imaginations.

Fresh from The Royal Exchange’s The Crucible, Alastair Gilles shows his versatility as a performer in doubling up as the crafty Weasel and the calming and knowledgeable Owl. Cathy Shiel and Jennifer Birch are dynamic, suitably animated and fun, working alongside each other as Rosie Red and Cyril.

Lara Booth’s set design provides the ideal balance between simplicity and woodland magic – complete with hidey holes and vines. Will Hague’s squirrel tail design is the perfect visual for younger children to understand the difference between the two characters on stage.

FullSizeRenderCyril the Squirrel is a superb piece of children’s theatre – smart and well pitched. Thing 2 laughed along with many of the jokes throughout the show and took away the important message that it is interesting to be different, change can be good and that diversity makes the world go round.

 

 

-Kristy Stott

Cyril the Squirrel continues to tour throughout July 2016: The Dogs Trust, Denton 26th July 2016 (plus and post-show doggy themed workshop) and The Atkinson, Southport 30th July 2016.

REVIEW: Declaration (The Lowry, Salford)

Declaration by Art With Heart ~ Developed With The Lowry ~ © Sam Ryley
Declaration by Art With Heart ~ Developed With The Lowry ~
© Sam Ryley

 

upstaged rating: 

Back in the late eighties, I remember my mum taking my brother to the GP because he was so hard to manage – highly intelligent, bursting with questions and the ability to stop a whole shopping centre with his tantrums. The GP’s advice was cut the sugar and watch out for those E numbers, and my mum and my brother were sent on their way.

Created by Rachel Moorhouse and Sarah Emmott, Declaration is a bold and insightful new play by award-winning arts adventurers and theatre-makers, Art With Heart, exploring Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Using autobiographical material, animated storytelling, humour and audience interaction, Sarah Emmott presents her experience of living with ADHD. Chatting with the audience prior to the show, Sarah breaks down any barriers – there is no sense of us and them – and the audience is encouraged to join in at various points during the 70 minute running time.

Staged in the round, Sarah’s effervescent presence fills the performance space; animated but vulnerable; brave and funny. Describing her mind whizzing ‘like a water wheel’, there’s a refreshing sense of spontaneity, as she guides us through her experience of growing up and trying to fit in, coming to terms with a diagnosis and a ‘label’ and trying to find some sense through all of the noise and opinions around medication.

A mish-mash of ‘things’ are pegged to a washing line above our heads – bright childlike artwork, cheerleading pom-poms and dolls amongst other items. There’s a wooden trunk, containing necessary props, which Sarah wheels around and film projection by People Staring which shows candid interviews with Sarah’s mother, her partner and medical professionals.

Sarah’s ability to interact with her audience and the frequency with which she does so really makes Declaration quite extraordinary. Directing questions to members of the audience, she demonstrates her thirst for knowledge and her need to feel the same as everybody else. She joins a conversation with a parent called Val and asks her about her parenting experience and coping strategies and encourages the audience to ring bells in a clever demonstration of how overwhelmed she feels sometimes.

Declaration is an intelligent, entertaining and thoughtful piece of theatre which is sure to prompt discussion around mental health and the complex issues faced by those adults living with a condition like ADHD. Brilliantly executed and refreshing, Declaration challenges stigma and raises awareness, paving the way for further discussion and understanding around mental health.

-Kristy Stott

To find out more about Art With Heart‘s brilliant work, click here to visit their website.

REVIEW: Petrification (The Lowry, Salford)

Petrification by Telltale Theatre Company
Petrification by Telltale Theatre Company in association with LittleMighty
Reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged rating: 

In Petrification, Zoe Cooper’s dynamic writing boldly explores the strains of family relationships, and how these relationships form who we are. Set in a local pub in the North East, it tells the story of two brothers – Sean and Simon – meeting up the night before their father’s funeral. However, after having been away in London at university, Simon is surprised to be meeting Sean’s boyfriend, Aidan. Uncomfortable with Sean’s new relationship and how close Aidan has become to his family, Simon struggles with the changes that have developed in his absence, and we begin to understand the significance of a family holiday to Whitby when the brothers were young.

The opening scenes of the performance are unusually honest, with Cooper’s expertly crafted dialogue and Mark Maughan’s direction combining to create a familiar and compelling narrative. The physicality of the actors and their increasing use of the limited space available begin to make the piece more animated and intense, creating momentum, as the details of the Whitby holiday are slowly revealed.  As the play progresses, the tension between the three becomes more difficult to watch, built up by the dramatic combination of lighting and sound designed by Joshua Pharo and Guy Connelly. James Baxter delivers a particularly riveting and emotionally engaging performance as Sean, portraying a challenging yet heartfelt brotherly relationship in his chemistry with Neil Grainger as Simon. The two have a natural, energetic humour, whereas interactions between Grainger and Jamie Quinn as Aidan are perfectly awkward, reinforcing Aidan’s inability to become a part of the family.

 

However, as the details of the holiday and the different relationships the three men had with Sean and Simon’s father begin to spill into the story through imaginative techniques such as rewinds and multirole, the impact is slowly lost. It becomes near impossible to recognise who the actor is speaking as, and where we are in the story. The dizzying cuts between the past and present soon become far too confusing, and without answering some of the questions raised throughout the play, present a rather unsatisfying ending.

Nonetheless, Petrification is a captivating and meaningful representation of family dynamics and relationships that although confusing, is unbelievably refreshing. Zoe Cooper’s writing is clever, witty and shocking, and although seemingly simplistic in its summary, Petrification is a seamless and gripping spectacle.

– Megan Hyland
Find out more about LittleMighty here. Petrification continues the tour at the Mitre Inn, Knaresborough on 20 June 2016 with further shows in Ripon, Harrogate, Leeds and London through June and July. Click here for tickets and more information.

REVIEW – Chotto Desh (The Lowry, Salford)

Chotto Desh © Richard Haughton

 

Thingstars: 

Chotto Desh is being performed as part of the Week 53 festival at The Lowry Theatre in Salford. The innovative festival seeks to bring together contemporary dance, visual arts, music and theatre in interactive installations, exhibitions and performances.

We were thrilled to find out that the Akram Khan Company were taking part in the festival with a new adaptation of their Olivier Award-winning DESH, suitable for children aged 7+ and their families. This is the first ever family show created by Akram Khan and I was very excited to introduce Thing 1, who loves to dance, to some of Akram Khan’s work.

Chotto Desh meaning ‘small homeland’ in Bengali, is the perfect blend of dance, clever animation and simple storytelling set to the beat of an original soundtrack. The narrative is beautifully painted and is pitched at the ideal pace and level for older children to enjoy and understand, detailing a young British man’s dreams, curiosities and memories on his journey to find home. Despite being born in London, Akram has roots in Bangladesh and the Philippines – we follow him on his journey from Britain to Bangladesh and back again; we understand his aspiration to be a dancer and we explore a magical world of memories and stories as they unfold to us.

The show is stunningly performed by Dennis Alamanos – the dynamic and detailed choreography fuses classical Indian Kathak with ballet and contemporary dance. With references to Michael Jackson, breakdancing and street dance – we can understand how popular culture influenced Akram’s childhood. Alamanos’ movement fuses perfectly with the voiceovers and dream-like moving images. Children’s mouths were agape at the enchanting animation – as Akram comes face to face with a crocodile and stares in awe at an elephant before sprinting away from an approaching tiger.

There is such fluidity with the whole performance which also aids little ones understanding and there is a perfect scattering of humour. It was pleasing to see so many children engaging with the performance and enjoying such a breathtaking piece of choreography. Chotto Desh is the perfect mix of storytelling and dance, loaded with innocence and affection, making it fitting for young minds.

Chotto Desh is a beautiful adventure for children aged 7+ and their grown-ups – thrilling, poignant and brilliant. It certainly encouraged us to think about our own home and family and the aspirations that drive us forward.


-Kristy Stott

Chotto Desh runs at the Lowry in Salford until 4 May 2016.

REVIEW – Origins (The Lowry)

Origins by Animikii Theatre.
Developed with The Lowry.
Upstaged Rating: 

This new piece of physical theatre by Animikii Theatre Company explores the story of the world’s first murderer: the killing of Cain by his brother Abel. The result is an intense hour of gripping storytelling communicated only through movement and sound.

Co-created by Henry McGrath and Adam Davies, who also plays Abel, Origins probes the psychological and divine relationship between the two brothers and examines the reason that the two became such hateful enemies.

The brothers relationship is well mapped from the start with Abel (Adam Davies) and Cain (Charles Sandford) engaging in enjoyable and boisterous brotherly games. Oscar Thompson’s ominous musical score resonates powerfully, from the sound of a maternal heartbeat to a discordant boom, giving further depth and meaning to the skilled physicality.

Charles Sandford as Cain towers over Adam Davies’ Abel and appears as the dominant brother from the very start. Cain proves to be diligent crop farmer and Abel a shepherd but the power balance is shifted once Abel makes a more pleasing sacrifice to their god. Could jealousy be the motivation for the murder? Did Cain feel a loss of self-esteem which powered him to kill his brother? Animikii aim to look beyond the monster that Cain appears to be and deliver a portrait of his dreams, passions and the motivations that lead him to commit fratricide.

Adam Davies and Charles Sandford are highly skilled performers and gripping to watch. Bare-chested they deliver an agile performance demonstrating precision, spatial awareness and creativity. 

Origins is a tremendous and gripping piece of physical theatre, intense and biblical in the grand sense. With every detail loaded to perfection, Animikii Theatre Company are certainly ones to watch and I can’t wait to hear about their future projects.

-Kristy Stott

Origins continues to tour through May 2016: Visiting the Southbank Centre, London on the 4th and 5th May. The tour visits the Rainhall Centre in Barnoldswick, The Bureau in Blackburn, The Barbour Institute in Tattenhall, The Goodwill Hall in Faddiley and the Unity Theatre in Liverpool. Please click here for more info and tickets.